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Local emergency drill okay; first nationwide EAS drill problematic — at best

fili@samoanews.com
Samoana High School students participated in the tsunami ‘PacWave’ 2011 emergency evacuation drill yesterday morning. This was a Pacific wide tsunami exercise that included most island countries in the Pacific, according to local American Samoa Department of Homeland Security (ASDHS) director Mike Sala. [photo: Jeff Hayner]

The Pacific Wave 2011 — or PacWave ‘11 — which involved a simulated earthquake and tsunami — went well for American Samoa, which is among the Pacific countries and territories that took part in the two-hour exercise, coordinated locally between the National Weather Service in Tafuna and the local Department of Homeland Security’s Territorial Emergency Management Coordinating Office (TEMCO).

Local officials are scheduled to meet today to discuss the drill, and see if there were any issues that came up yesterday that needed to be addressed or improved, said Meteorologist Mase Akapo.

“Some of the agencies [involved in the drill] were given forms to fill out... so we can… do an assessment of the exercise afterwards,” said Mase adding that the Weather Service and ASDHS will meet today “to assess some of the good things that came out of the exercise, some shortfalls, and see how best we can move forward to improve some of the things that... did not meet the level of expectation or criteria during the exercise.”

“For the things that went well, we will try to expand and improve more,” he said and noted that this is the purpose of this exercise, to make sure that “we are prepared” and make improvements to areas that need improving.

The exercise yesterday began with a 10:08 a.m. bulletin issued by the Weather Service that a simulated 8.4 magnitude earthquake had occurred around 10 a.m. local time in the Tongan Region, about 733 miles southwest of Pago Pago with the first simulated tsunami waves to arrive here around 11:20 a.m.

Just after the bulletin was issued, the Emergency Alert System (EAS) aired on local stations, which included the message that “this is a test”, and the outdoor siren warning system was also activated, carrying tones and the message that this was only a test. However, Samoa News received reports that the siren for some areas came on around 10:15 a.m., while others said they didn’t hear any siren at all.

The message aired on television was received with mixed reviews, as there was no indication that it was a test run in the written message, especially for those who had paid no attention to media reports of the ‘test’ being run yesterday.

The drill was finally canceled around 11:35 a.m.

As to an overall look at the exercise, Mase said that “for the most part the exercise went well... it was received and accepted by a lot of people” but acknowledged that there are those who either “misconstrued or did not understand what the exercise was all about.”

“But for the most part, we would like to say that it was a well organized and well operated exercise,” he said and thanked the general public for their patience and cooperation as well as the government agencies and the three schools that were involved.

Matatula and Alataua II Elementary schools and Samoana High School were the designated schools in the drill. Reports received from the schools said that the “evacuation and exercise went very well,” said Mase.

StarKist Samoa was the major private sector company originally scheduled to take part. However, the cannery was unable to participate during the drill because it occurred around the same time there was heavy rainfall. A Samoa News reporter who visited the cannery was told by a handful of employees that the cannery was delaying their participation in the drill due to the heavy rain. This was the same information announced by KSBS-FM quoting StarKist official Taeaoafua Dr. Meki Solomona.

Besides the 10 a.m. drill, StarKist had also scheduled two separate exercises for its operations — 7 p.m. yesterday and 5 a.m. today — but Samoa News was unable to confirm late yesterday afternoon if that still planned, as rain continues to drench the territory. 

StarKist Co. spokesperson Mary Sestric said this is the company’s annual Emergency Evacuation, “which is a critical component of the plant’s Emergency Action Response Plan.”

Sestric said in an e-mail from the company’s U.S. headquarters, “We have a rigorous Emergency Action Response plan in place because we are committed to the health and well-being of our employees and the safety of the community in which we live and work.”

FIRST NATIONWIDE EAS TEST

Earlier yesterday morning, the nationwide EAS test also took place, which experienced several problems.

The first was that the federal government informed local officials that the test would be at 2 p.m. Eastern Time and that means 7 a.m. locally — but at 7 a.m. nothing happened here.

It was about 30 minutes later that the local broadcast stations learned that it was supposed to be 8 a.m. — apparently federal officials were not aware that American Samoa is not on daylight savings time.

And when 8 a.m. came around there were more problems: Residents couldn’t hear the EAS announcement or the signal didn’t come through to local radio stations. The same problem was reported in other parts of the U.S.

Local officials are putting together their report for submission to the federal government.



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